Bernie Peet is president of Pork Chain Consulting Ltd. of Lacombe, Alberta, and editor of Western Hog Journal. His columns will run every second week in the Manitoba Co-operator.
Edmonton chef Brad Smoliak is passionate about food and especially pork, but he says barriers need to be overcome in order to increase consumption.
“Pork has become the new fish,” Smoliak told attendees at the recent Banff Pork Seminar.
“It’s the food they like other people to cook for them because they are intimidated by which cuts to use, how long to cook it for, and to what doneness.”
While chefs cook pork to medium and above, he notes, consumers tend to overcook pork and dry it out, said Smoliak, who has been a chef for 20 years, co-founded the internationally recognized Hardware Grill, and is now a research and product development chef.
Another issue is that only certain pork cuts are widely used, primarily loin, tenderloin and chops. We have to change that, Smoliak says.
“What about the shoulder, butt, and legs and hocks?” he asks. “When you travel to the United States, check out the flyers from some of their more famous grocery chains. They advertise the cheaper cuts because there is a demand! European cultures use a wider variety of cuts and celebrate the pig like no other animal. Why can’t we do that here?”
Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia, has a billion-dollar-plus industry all focused on the pig, and yet in Canada and Alberta our hog industry is dying, Smoliak says.
“I had a recent conversation with a meat broker who had just signed a contract to bring in bacon from the U.S. to be sold at $7.99 a kilogram at the retail level,” he recalls.
“Why is this happening? Why don’t we have a competitive bacon industry here in Alberta?”
FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER
Getting consumers to enjoy and use pork is the secret to success, Smoliak believes.
“We could focus more on specialized pork breeds as opposed to commodity pork,” he says. “Breeds like Berkshire, in Japanese korbuta, are increasing in popularity and consumers are demanding these specialized products.”
A good starting point is to compare the pork counter to the vegetable market.
“I recently attended a produce- marketing show, showcasing the many different specialized vegetables that are available. People are demanding more and more specialized items, not just vegetables, but in their meat products.”
Smoliak points out that there are many types of beef, such as Certified Angus, Kobe, grass fed, prime, organic, hormone free and antibiotic free.
“Pork has to do the same,” he says. “We need to give the pig some cachet! Labelling pork as Canadian pork or Alberta pork is just not enough.”
ENCOURAGING MORE PORK CONSUMPTION
The real question is how we get people to eat more pork, says Smoliak, suggesting a number of ways this can be achieved.
First, we should make it easier for the consumer to cook pork, through better packaging and labelling, with cooking methods on the package, he says. Next, we should develop more ready-to-cook or ready-to- eat meals featuring pork.
“If consumers want their pork well done, develop flavourful recipes that allow them to do that,” he explains. “Make the recipes with a few easy steps and simple ingredients. Ethnic recipes lead the pack with flavour profiles, but without using tons of ingredients.”
In addition, specific products should be exploited, he says.
“Pork belly is a cut where there has been an explosion over the last couple of years,” he notes.
“Pul led pork is another ‘trendy’ dish that is now seen everywhere. Why not pork burgers? A restaurant in the Crowsnest Pass featured them on their menu and sold out.”
Pork should be promoted at special events, especially where they provide the opportunity to reach the general public, he says.
“Pulled-pork sandwiches are popular at Oiler and Flames games,” he notes. “At the recent Grey Cup festivities in Edmonton, over 100,000 people were in the downtown area daily over four days. I did cooking demos and the feedback was great.”
He suggests promoting pork at large-scale events by offering samples, such as Cuban pork sandwiches or pulled pork, as an example of how the drive for pork could be achieved.
“The World Junior Hockey tournament is happening next year in Calgary and Edmonton – let’s figure out how to get involved.”
DEVELOP VALUE CHAINS
The key to better promotion is more co-operation between the participants in the supply chain. Smoliak is a keen advocate of the value chain approach in order to maximize value and increase sales. He stresses that transparency is very important in making a value chain work.
“People must be honest as to how much they need to make, how much it costs to produce, deliver and process,” he says. “Everything must be included.”
All parties in the chain must be equal, must make money, and must be committed for at least five years, he says.
Focus on the customer and what they want, Smoliak concludes.
“Look what happened recently to the car industry. They were not giving people what they wanted. If we don’t know, let’s find out instead of just offering what we want.”
His final point was simple and passionate.
“Stop treating pork as a commodity, and start treating and celebrating it as food. A demand for pork has to be created by us.”
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